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Washington, DC – It’s a scene from a story I’ve heard so often I couldn’t doubt it if I wanted to; my mother used to spend hours in our cramped Beijing kitchen cooking chicken wings in soy sauce while I tried my hardest to kick my way through her stomach. Even then, I’d been tired of being cooped up in one place for so long. We were all that way – all four of us, imprisoned within state lines and continental boundaries since before I can remember, desperate to see more, to get out, to leave. It wears off after a while. I was born in a hospital that I’ve never seen since; I was given a plane ticket forty-five days later. My thirteen-day old thumbprint was my passport signature for seven years.

My father has shown me at least five different ways to pack a suitcase in fifteen minutes so that it’s organized by color, clothing, and time of the year. Each time I end up overturning my room in an effort to not miss anything, taking far longer than I need to until someone walks in to find me poring over a creased birthday card, my case still empty and my arms laden with P.S.s and goodbyes and I’ll-never-forget-yous.

Here is what they tell you about moving: it hurts, but you’ll get used to it. Life goes on. It’s not the end of the world.

Here is what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that every earnest promise to talk to your best friend every night becomes a whisper of a hello every six months to someone you can only call a stranger. They don’t tell you that you’ll never visit. They don’t tell you that being missed is a myth.

They don’t tell you that every time, without fail, you’ll feel like it’ll be different.

Perhaps it’s the subtle changes in the overhead menus of the different airport Starbucks. The smell of cardboard boxes, the sound of masking tape being ripped off a dispenser; the thought of starting over. The five email addresses you have written down on a slip in your back pocket that falls out in the line for security. The phone number you have committed to memory and the memory of just how numbered your days really are.

“Where are you from?” only has one real answer. The answers I give, however, are innumerable. Ask me where I’m from and I will hand you an immigration form and tell you that my origin is in a 7-digit passport number. Ask me where I’m from and I will point you to the red and black suitcase that sits, open and waiting, in a dusty closet in my basement, and tell you that I come from the scratchy protective lining that stops my toothbrush from brushing against my socks. Ask me where I’m from and I will tell you that every airport smells like a different kind of sorrow. Every departures gate has vacant, slow-blinking eyes, telling you to hurry up and get your last look. Every boarding pass cuts my name off at the sixth letter, my identity too inconvenient for the ink. Ask me where I’m from and I will show you my thumbprint; in the end, the only place I can call home is myself.

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